crazy_toffee (crazy_toffee) wrote,

Naruto fan-fanfic: 'Tangled up in Lace' 8/ 8 + Epilogue (Sasu/Naru, NC-17)

Title: Tangled Up in Lace Epilogue
Series: Naruto
Pairing: Sasuke/Naruto (… and Saki)
Rating: NC-17
Spoilers: Yes, for all things Sasuke – and Orochimaru.

IMPORTANT Notes: This is a fan-fanfic :) Based on askerian’s Lace and Strawberries, the concept of Saki is sole property of Asuka. Before you attack this monster I suggest you read her three chapters, or at the very least the 3rd one, In the Rain, which is the one this story is mainly hinged upon.

Summary: So what if Orochimaru was dead and Uchiha Sasuke was not? Who cared that Jiraiya had lost his interest in becoming Hokage after his teacher was dead? And what if Naruto never became Hokage at all? Jiraiya didn’t think that Naruto regretted his losses. Some dreams were bound to remain forever unrealized; but that was the thing about Naruto . . . he made it seem like it would still turn out for the best.

Warnings: For the fic as a whole: angst, plot, unromantic romance, fights, cursing, sex and lots of crossdressing.

EDIT: Now with lovely art by chyldea (scroll to the bottom)

Beta’ed by cindelius

Chapter One: Deferred
Chapter Two: Denied
Chapter Three: Doubted
Chapter Four: Debased
Chapter Five: Damaged
Chapter Six: Disarmed
Chapter Seven: Dazed
Chapter Eight: Delivered

Epilogue : Dreamed

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime,
Therefore, we are saved by hope.

-- Reinhold Niebuhr

The trip lasted longer than he had expected. He would have come back earlier, but one thing led to another and -- time passes quickly, when you get old.

Jiraiya stopped to stare at the grassy hills leading to Konoha’s secondary gate. The air was thick with the scent of hot grass and evaporating dew. Crickets chattered away in the heat, hidden in the tall grass. Save for a few taller, broader trees, it looked just like the spring days of his childhood.

I’m home.

Jiraiya sighed, dropping his backpack to roll an aching shoulder with a grimace. He didn’t want to stop by the Hokage’s tower and report. After such a long time away, Jiraiya only wanted to dunk himself in a bath. He might as well do so and stay there until Tsunade found out about his arrival from someone else (and pitched a fit). He snickered darkly and picked up his step.

I wonder if she’s finally let the wrinkles set in . . . Ah,Tsunade, you’ll never change, will you? Not even when you --

He mentally shook himself.

No, he didn’t really want to think about that right then.

There’s still time, isn’t there? Before it’s over.

Jiraiya grabbed his pack again and pulled it over his back impatiently, ready to make a run for the public baths.

And here we g--

A shock of blond hair had caught his eyes.

For a moment, Jiraiya thought he was seeing a ghost. A memory made flesh, come to haunt him for being a bad role model. Then reality crept back into his mind and he realized who this was. Jiraiya slowed down to a halt.

And what the hell is he doing here?

The boy sat with his back to Jiraiya, Konoha’s entrance, and to the mountains that rose in the distance.

Jiraiya took a step towards him, sending a flurry of crickets bouncing out of his way. Naruto jerked and turned his head to stare over his shoulder. Jiraiya blinked, caught for a moment by the eerie resemblance between Naruto and the boy’s late father.

It’s become even more apparent in the time I’ve been away.

The crickets picked up their deafening song once more.

“. . . Ero sennin?” Naruto mumbled in frank surprise. “No way. . .”

Jiraiya grinned toothily. “Is that how a student should greet his beloved teacher? Show some respect, kid!” Jiraiya spread his arms to emphasize his point.

Naruto made a rude noise and burst out laughing. “Fuck you, old man. Even Kakashi has been around more than you! Respect, my ass!”

“Insolent brat!”

“Old fart!”

Jiraiya flopped down on the grass beside Naruto, undignified and glad to act like it. He threw his pack on the ground and sighed. A cricket landed on his shoe, twitching its front legs before springing off. The sun was warm on both of their backs; the balmy spring weather added a drowsy weight to the air.

Naruto sighed companionably. “Fuck, old man. How long has it been, anyway?”

Jiraiya looked up at the sky and counted silently in his head. “. . . around three years, I think.”


Jiraiya shrugged and lay back on the grass. “It’s good to be back.”

“I’ll bet. Gran will have your balls for this one.”

Jiraiya let out a scoffing sound. “Let her try, brat. Let her try.” He closed his eyes. “Besides, I was out doing her errands. If I had known she’d be such a bitchy, demanding Hokage, I would never have suggested her in the first place.”

Naruto snickered and stuck a stalk of grass between his lips, nibbling absently. He was quieter, Jiraiya noted, with a pang of sadness. Not that he minded the change, but . . . Naruto had been such a crazy kid to have around, and so ridiculously eager to please.

Not a kid anymore, though.

Naruto’s features had settled into a roughened sort of charm: not handsome, but . . . agreeable. He was thicker around the shoulders, and, with his hair longer and wilder, Naruto did remind Jiraiya a whole lot of another young man, more than twenty years in his grave.

Things change, and, then again . . . they don’t.

“So . . .” Jiraiya spoke up, filling the silence. “What are you doing out here, anyway?”

“Taking a break.”

Jiraiya closed his eyes again with a sly grin. “You are ‘taking a break’ outside the village gates, at the top of a hill?”

Naruto sighed irritably. “Yeah, so?”

“Sounds like you’re running away from Tsunade.”

“So what if I am?”

Jiraiya laughed. “You’re sworn to obey her, brat.”

“Then you obey her, pervert! You chose her!”

Jiraiya raised his hand and swatted Naruto across the back of the head. Naruto let out an offended yelp. Jiraiya suspected that Naruto could have easily dodged the blow, so he wasn’t sure whether he should be touched or offended that Naruto let him get away with it. He had swatted the boy like that many times during the years he trained Naruto. Nostalgia was catching up to them.

Jiraiya gave the younger man a long look. Naruto had really grown since Jiraiya had left, and it upset Jiraiya to find that the brash child in his memories had turned into this man. The grin that might have once been cheeky was now downright cunning, even when his eyes held that same guileless light. Even though it was, undoubtedly, Naruto, it was not the Naruto Jiraiya had left in Konoha, three years earlier.

“So . . . How was the trip?” Naruto asked, calmly returning Jiraiya’s stare. “Anything new to tell about Wave? Or did you stop by Hidden Sand before coming here? I heard Shikamaru arguing about the upcoming chuunin exams with Temari.”

Jiraiya shrugged and put his arms behind his head. “The chuunin exams will be held in Mist this year. Not the friendliest of villages, but they’re long overdue their turn, so . . . hopefully nothing too screwy will happen.”

“Ah.” Naruto nodded, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his bent knees. “I heard rumors about us going to war with Rice.”

Jiraiya sighed. “Yeah . . . the nobles still haven’t gotten over Konoha’s defeat of Orochimaru. They claim Fire Country is trying to dominate all other countries by suppressing their armed forces. Rice is trying to secure an alliance with Water Country, apparently.”

“So the chuunin exams at Hidden Mist—“

“Might not be as quiet as the Hokage hoped,” Jiraiya grumbled. “They never are. Oh, well. It’s not like they’re not fun to watch either way.”

“What about Hidden Sound?” Naruto questioned tentatively.

Jiraiya scowled and then forced himself to look nonchalant. “After the Otokage was taken down, it fell apart on its own.”

So much for your empire, you stupid, stupid fuck.

Naruto was quiet for a long moment. Beyond the scent of damp earth and new grass, Jiraiya could smell Konoha’s bakeries. Maybe he should get himself a bun before making a dash for the baths. He might even treat Naruto to one. It had been so long since he’d last been home. He might --

“I’m sorry,” Naruto said, quite unexpectedly.

Jiraiya frowned and turned his face towards Naruto. “What for, brat?”

“Orochimaru. I’m . . . sorry.”

A thousand different memories, thoughts and forgotten dreams were kicked up in Jiraiya’s mind like fallen leaves. They spun indistinctly and settled into nothing. “Sorry?” He echoed, then he snorted. “That’s funny, coming from you.”

Naruto shrugged. “I dunno. I figured I should apologize.”

“You didn’t kill him, kid.” Jiraiya crossed his legs, surprised that even now this topic still hurt.

Naruto scratched the back of his head sheepishly. “I know, I just -- I eventually figured it must have been a drag to train me, when all I kept talking about was Sasuke.”

Jiraiya let his face slip into an expression of profound disinterest. “You were a total brat,” he declared stoically, hoping his seriousness would distract Naruto with a laugh.

Doggedly, Naruto continued. “But you warned me against it all the time. I didn’t realize back then that . . . well, that it was because Orochimaru had—“

“Naruto,” Jiraiya snapped, cutting him off. “One thing has nothing to do with the other.”

“But they do, don’t they?” Naruto pressed.

Yeah kid, they do, but . . .

“-- isn’t that why you and Gran were always so against me and Sakura trying to get Sasuke back? Because Orochimaru left you guys?”

Candid as always, aren’t you?

Jiraiya swallowed back his irritation and spoke: “You make it sound more dramatic than it really was, Naruto. No, don’t make that face, I mean it. The Uchiha brat betrayed Konoha for . . . well, I don’t call it a justifiable reason, but I’ll grant him the benefit of a true motive. Orochimaru left out of spite and boredom.”

“Still, I’m sorry.”

“What the hell for, Naruto?” Jiraiya demanded tiredly.

“Because . . . you had to kill him.”

Jiraiya sighed and stared up at the passing clouds. He hadn’t expected to ever have this conversation with another person, much less Naruto. Though perhaps Naruto was the only person who could have discussed this with him; the only one who might come close to understanding him where Orochimaru was concerned.

You know, kid? I had figured you’d turn out just like me, eventually.

“Don’t be sorry for that snake,” Jiraiya said. “It was a good way for it to be over and done with. It would have ended like that anyway, someday.”

“I guess.” Naruto exhaled loudly, staring out across the distance. “Things turn out in the strangest ways.”


Naruto had a way of making things turn out his way, rather than the outcome anyone could have expected.

“You’d make a great Hokage,” Jiraiya muttered, completely out of the blue.

Naruto’s face tightened in momentary pain, then his lips slid up into a slow smile, and his blue eyes glimmered with laughter. “Old man, you’ve gotten mushy in your old age!”

Jiraiya laughed heartily. “No, I mean it, brat. I think you’d make a great Hokage. I’m still looking forward to the day I see your stupid, whiskered face on that mountain.”

Naruto shook his head with a chuckle. “Just so you could go and put graffiti all over it, right?” His smile was small and maybe even a bit sad. “They’ll never let me, though.”

Yeah, I know, kid. I know.

But aloud, Jiraiya said, “Ah, I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”

“Riiiight,” Naruto jeered in good humor. “Keep up the spirit, pervert.”

“Konoha needs a strong Hokage, and particularly, one that will get along with Suna’s Mindfucked Kazekage, or that alliance will go to hell. Someone strong! Patient! Determined! Energetic!”

“Like Lee!” Naruto chortled. “Except for the part about being patient.”

“A Hokage in tights? Okay. Sure. Why not?”

Naruto guffawed. “You’re right, it would be too weird. Besides, he’ll be too busy for that in two months.”

Jiraiya raised a brow, asking Naruto to elaborate. Naruto added, “Awww, right, you’ve been away really long.” He paused again, clearly for effect, and Jiraiya gave him an annoyed glare. “Sakura is pregnant! She’s due this summer.”

“You’re kidding,” Jiraiya mumbled, incredulous.

“Nope, she’s all fat and unbalanced already.” Naruto grinned. “Though, don’t tell her I called her fat . . . or unbalanced.”

“You have my word,” Jiraiya mumbled, truly taken aback. “Wow . . . that girl’s really pregnant? Well, I’ll be damned.” Jiraiya found himself feeling very, very tired all of a sudden. “I’ll be damned,” he repeated, a bit numbly.

Naruto’s shoulders shook with laughter. “See? You shouldn’t have been gone so long.”

“Sakura -- a mother? That’s just downright strange.”

“It was bound to happen someday, ya know?” Naruto replied cheerfully. “Once Tsunade made sure the perverts had laid off her cute pupil.”

“And what are you, if not a total pervert, my boy?”

“But I’m an ‘otherwise-engaged’ pervert,” Naruto pointed out with a cheeky wink.

“My most perverted student!” Jiraiya pretended to wipe a tear off the corner of his eye.

“Another reason why Tsunade-granny wouldn’t even think of putting me in her chair, old man. It’s all your fault!” Naruto declared, punching Jiraiya’s shoulder. “You made me dirty!”


Naruto laughed harder, until his sides heaved and he had to curl up a little. “Ahahaha . . . if you could only see your face!” Naruto gasped.

Jiraiya felt something inside of him loosen. Even though it had once been his greatest goal, Naruto didn’t seem particularly troubled by the fact that he would never become Hokage. Jiraiya could still remember a time when Naruto would only talk about his dream of becoming Hokage. It was all Hokage-this, Hokage-that, when-I’m-Hokage, and so on. It had been rather cute, Jiraiya mused. Not that he would tell Naruto that.

He was even less inclined to tell Naruto that he, the Pervert of Perverts, had once dreamed of becoming Hokage as well. Until, of course, Orochimaru --

And much like that snake, there was Uchiha Sasuke . . . who changed everything for Naruto.

But really, when one got down to it, Orochimaru and the Uchiha-brat were nothing like each other. Even if they filled similar roles in Naruto and Jiraiya’s lives, they were essentially different people. Naruto and Jiraiya were very different, too, even though they had both entertained similar dreams at one point. Even though neither one ever became Hokage.

You win some, and you lose some. Things don’t ALWAYS end in the same crappy way.

And that was a heartening thought; things did change after all.

So what if Orochimaru was dead and Uchiha Sasuke was not? Who cared that Jiraiya had lost his interest in becoming Hokage after his teacher was dead? And what if Naruto never became Hokage at all? Jiraiya didn’t think that Naruto regretted his losses. Some dreams were bound to remain forever unrealized; but that was the thing about Naruto . . . he made it seem like it would still turn out for the best.

You defy all logic, brat.

And speaking of logic-defying: “So, what’s up with the Uchiha kid, anyway? Does he still wear panties and play cocktease?”

Naruto coughed loudly and swallowed a laugh. “Don’t ever say that around him!” Naruto ran his fingers over the grass beside him. “And no, he doesn’t.”


“The last time I saw him, that seemed to be a pretty defining habit.”

“Yes, well,” Naruto agreed vaguely. “Things don’t always turn out the way you thought they would.”

“And you two are still --“

Yes,” Naruto replied quietly, a small smile perched upon his lips. Jiraiya watched his eyes soften and wondered at the way things could be so similar, and yet so different.

“And where is he right now?”

Naruto started. “Sasuke?”

“The one and only?” Jiraiya drawled.

“Oh, he’s . . . out.”

Jiraiya’s brows drew together. “Out?”

Naruto’s expression became strained. “On a mission. He was sent on a B-class mission to Wave Country a bit over a week ago.”

Jiraiya let that settle in his mind. It wasn’t a thought he was truly happy with. “They’ve lifted his parole?”

“Not quite, Kakashi-sensei went with him as a supervising officer. This . . . “ Naruto fidgeted for a moment. “. . . it’s Sasuke’s first mission outside Konoha in three years.”

A test? Tsunade, you’re actually letting the Uchiha outside Konoha’s boundaries? Either he’s been the best lapdog you’ve ever had, or you really can’t say ‘no’ to Naruto.

The thought made him smile. In the end, they had both favored Naruto shamelessly.

“So that’s why you’re out here,” Jiraiya snorted.

Naruto looked away hurriedly. “I don’t know what you mean,” he groused.

“He’s coming back today, isn’t he? Isn’t heeeeee --?” Jiraiya pressed, leaning forwards with a teasing grin pasted on his face.

Naruto leaned away awkwardly. “Oh, shudup!

Jiraiya laughed and laughed and laughed. “I bet Tsunade knows where you are!”

Naruto’s furious expression changed to a troubled frown.

“I also heard something else recently.” Naruto hesitated, shifting uncomfortably. “From Sakura.”

“A juicy rumor?” Jiraiya leered.

“Something about Gran,” Naruto’s voice was uncommonly flat.

And that can only be one thing.

Jiraiya’s smile slipped. “Ah . . . you know about that?”

“So it’s true?” Naruto’s voice wavered a bit. “Tsunade-granny is dying?”

“Slowly, but yes, she is.” Jiraiya paused to let it sink in. Naruto’s eyes dulled, and he looked down. Jiraiya continued, “Both she and Orochimaru had a fondness for dangerous jutsus, even if she was more harmless around them. That youthful look of hers is just taking its toll. Don’t make that face, Naruto, she knew what she was getting into.”

“Still, I --“

“Let it be; you can mourn over her when the time comes, but not before.” Jiraiya found it was hard to talk about this after all. He let out a shaky sigh. “Besides, right now, the main concern is keeping our heads above the water while she chooses her successor, and seeing if the new Hokage can handle our alliances. With the Third’s enemies still going around, things will start getting messy soon.”

“Aren’t they always?” Naruto asked gruffly.

Jiraiya shrugged again. “Such is the life of a shinobi.”

Naruto stared down at the grass, lips turned down. “How long do you think --“

“I don’t know, Naruto.”

That’s partly why I came back.

“But she’ll have to choose someone before that happens,” Jiraiya added, with finality.

“Rumor has it she’s considered Kakashi and Sakura for the position of Rokudaime, “ Naruto offered.

I know.

“Though, with Sakura becoming a mother and all . . . “

One would have thought Naruto would look sadder. “Why aren’t you more depressed?” Jiraiya jibed, disconcerted by Naruto’s calm demeanor.

“Depressed?” Naruto asked, frowning curiously.

“About not being considered.”

Naruto cocked his head to the side. “I think Kakashi-sensei would make an awesome Hokage.”

“I thought this was your lifelong dream.”

Though you have a lot to deal with already, with the Kyuubi, and your unstable seal – patched, though it is – and then there’s Uchiha . . . but still, being Hokage was your---

Naruto smiled warmly and shrugged. “I dunno, I thought I’d be more bummed-out, too. But I’m not, you know? Everyone’s here, and I’ll live and die protecting them anyway, so . . . I don’t know. But I am okay.”

(I want everyone to acknowledge me!)

(I will be the strongest Hokage of all!)

( . . . I will get him back!)

( . . . I will never surrender . . . )

It wasn’t that Naruto had changed, so much as the fact that his dreams and objectives had altered themselves slightly. The basic goal to be acknowledged, loved and accepted, was still there; it had even been fulfilled. From that perspective, receiving the title of Hokage was no longer as important as it had once been.

Times do change. But speaking of objectives . . .

“What about Uchiha, anyway?” Jiraiya suddenly asked. “What’s he going to do about reviving his clan?”

Naruto closed his eyes, as though suddenly hurt. His lips pulled down. “He’s not.”

Jiraiya had the grace to admit to himself that he had not expected that response. “What do you mean, he’s not?”

“Sasuke doesn’t want to continue his line. He says it’s enough that they were avenged, but that the sharingan -- it’s tainted.” There was clearly more to it, but Naruto’s face gave nothing away, and he would clearly say no more on the matter.

A deep and dark silence unfurled between them.

Tainted . . .

It was surprising to hear that the Uchiha agreed. “So, no more Uchiha Clan?”

“Nope, no more,” Naruto said, lacing his fingers together. “But I think he’s okay with that, deep down.”

Like you are about never being Hokage?

Maturity came with age, and with it, came the ability to compromise. Jiraiya hadn’t thought Naruto was capable of doing such a thing, though it was oddly comforting to know that he could.

And still --

“Well, I hope Tsunade spits in the eye of the council and appoints you as Rokudaime anyway, kid.”

Naruto choked on the piece of grass he’d been chewing. “The hell, old man?” Naruto broke into a laugh.

“Truly! I hope she does.” His words only made Naruto laugh harder. Jiraiya couldn’t keep the pride from showing in his voice this time: “You’d make a great Hokage.”

Naruto flushed abruptly and turned his head the other way. “You sappy, old fart.”

Jiraiya opened his mouth to give a suitable reply, but Naruto stiffened and smiled suddenly.

“Oi, there they come!”

Jiraiya blinked and looked around in surprise. He hadn’t felt anything that indicated anybody’s approach, and -- Ah. . . there it is. But it was faint and well-masked. It made Jiraiya wonder just how attuned to the Uchiha’s chakra Naruto was, to have felt such a craftily hidden pulse. He turned to ask Naruto how exactly he had felt Sasuke, but Naruto wasn’t looking at him anymore. He was already on his feet, smiling at what only he could see, at first.

In the distance, Jiraiya finally spotted Kakashi’s slouching figure, closely followed by a shorter, darker shape.

Uchiha Sasuke walked beside his teacher calmly, like a man who had nothing to fear. With his level of power, that was unsurprising. Dressed in simple shinobi clothes, Sasuke didn’t look any different from countless other ninja: a black long-sleeved shirt, green slacks and jacket, and combat sandals. If Jiraiya hadn’t known about Saki, he never would have imagined that this was the same person. Yet, it was the quiet, self-contained ease of his movements that drew the older man’s attention. Although Sasuke would never be without gloom, something in the way that he moved while arguing with his teacher spoke of an inner-peace that Jiraiya wouldn’t have thought possible.


Jiraiya saw Sasuke lift his hand to give Naruto the finger. Naruto rocked on the balls of his heels and laughed. Kakashi stepped away from the dusty path and lazily walked up the hill to them. Sasuke rolled his eyes irritably and followed suit.

Kakashi gave Jiraiya a mildly welcoming look.

“Long time, no see, Jiraiya-sama,” he remarked casually.

Sasuke, however, ignored both men completely, treading up the hill with bloody murder on his face.

“Could you be any less obvious?” Sasuke snapped, stopping in front of Naruto with a glare.

Naruto’s smile became feral. “Dunno, I’ve never tried.”

Sasuke gritted his teeth before spitting a curse. “Moron.”




Sasuke’s frown deepened so much it was almost comical. Naruto simply stood there, hands on his hips, smiling like a satisfied cat.

“I’m going back,” Sasuke declared, turning his back on Naruto abruptly. He gave Jiraiya a cursory nod and started to move.

“Oi, bastard! Waitaminute!”

“No way, I have to report to the Hokage and you’re an eyesore.”

“Hey! How about being polite, for once?”

“Too tired for that,” Sasuke muttered, taking another step forwards. Jiraiya noticed that, for someone that was trying to get away, he was doing so quite slowly.


“Says the one with dubious parentage?”

“Oh . . . fuck you,” Naruto growled, though his anger seemed light.

Sasuke cocked his head over his shoulder and raised an eyebrow. “Only if you beg.”

He walked back down after that pronouncement, leaving an open-mouthed Naruto behind. Of course, Naruto bounced back in record time and dashed after the other man, mouthing a string of curses. Sasuke’s step was measured yet easy for a shinobi of his level. He let Naruto catch up to him and further their argument. But what stuck out in Jiraiya’s mind was not the lewd comment, nor the casual step, it was his eyes. Uchiha Sasuke’s eyes had opened up as he insulted Naruto, they had shone with an emotion that Jiraiya had never thought he’d see there, so openly visible.

“These kids today . . . “ Kakashi sighed theatrically and snapped his book shut.

“I used to say the same thing about you.”

Kakashi’s grey eye crinkled. “Oh?”

“Yeah, ‘oh’ indeed.”

Jiraiya leaned backwards and watched the crickets leap out of Naruto’s way. Kakashi observed his students’ antics with a grin that was visible through his mask. Then he opened the book again and stuck his nose into it.

Jiraiya watched this strange man, whose story was tied to his in between one pupil and the other. Then he watched Naruto as he grabbed a cricket and tossed it at Sasuke.

A sudden warmth suffused his chest, something painful and sweet, like nostalgia. He had missed being here.

If someone had told Jiraiya that he would live to bury both of his teammates and three pupils, he wouldn’t have believed them. He wouldn’t have believed he would live long enough to watch – and train – three generations of Konoha shinobi. The Yondaime’s name had still been fresh on the Memorial Stone when Naruto entered the Academy, and yet, here Naruto was a grownup man. Kakashi had crow’s feet at the corner of his eye.

It’s just . . . Unbelievable.

Time had granted him a long life: long enough to find his dreams destroyed and born again, long enough to realize that though history repeated itself, it still managed to change. Such were the wonders of time.

If anybody had told him that Naruto would become the Rokudaime, and would lead Konoha into an even brighter future, Jiraiya would have shaken his head sadly. He knew it was impossible, he knew it would never happen in reality . . . because the truth of Naruto’s life was that he’d given up on that in favor of an even brighter and better dream. But even though all of this was true and would not change, if someone had told Jiraiya - right there and then - that Naruto would continue to change the world as a Hokage, Jiraiya would have believed them.

That’s what’s so amazing about you, Naruto. That’s why you would have made such a great leader.

Sasuke was giving Naruto a dirty look, but his step was light, there was no tension in his movements at all. To the untrained eye, he was still a shinobi back from a mission, but Jiraiya remembered the Uchiha Sasuke of old; this was not that sorrowful boy, but a man who was glad to come home.

Who would have thought . . . ?

Naruto laughed loudly in the distance, and Sasuke’s voice carried over, cold and mocking.

No one could have believed in this future, except you.

Sasuke stopped to push Naruto into a muddy pond. Naruto’s yowl of anger could be heard miles away.

Ever since I met you . . . and every day after that . . . you keep changing the world, bit by bit.

Kakashi gave Jiraiya a patient smile, and they both watched the argument escalate. Naruto and Sasuke kept on bickering until they reached the weather-beaten path that led them back into the city. Jiraiya stretched his legs on the warm grass under the deep blue sky and looked on as Naruto and Sasuke trod the same steps that he and so many others had walked before.

We have walked the exact same road, yet we reached different futures.

Sasuke stopped to give a signal to the sentinel. He glanced back at Kakashi, who waved his book at Sasuke, indicating that he could go in. Naruto watched Jiraiya for a moment, face set. Then his mouth turned up into a toothy grin and he waved enthusiastically, like he used to wave, as a child. Sasuke shook his head irritably at the gesture, but he stayed beside Naruto.

That’s what’s so amazing, kid.

Naruto slapped Sasuke’s shoulder, earning himself a half-hearted blow in return. The sentinel turned away, letting them pass. His attitude seemed to say: nothing strange here at all.

Naruto turned his back on the hills and sprinted back in, shouting something at Sasuke. Sasuke shook his head again and adjusted his backpack.

In spite of all the things that happened . . . Jiraiya sighed, feeling very old and, strangely, very content. You gave me hope, Naruto. You gave me hope.

Naruto and Sasuke were two vivid shapes in Jiraiya’s sight. They were brighter than any shadow around them. Watching Naruto as he did, Jiraiya felt a swell of pride and wonder. It was a selfish feeling, but he held on it. Something deep inside told him that he should keep watching until both Naruto and Sasuke disappeared. There was something special there, in that story that was still unfolding before his eyes. And though Jiraiya was an old and war-beaten warrior, he was also a lover of great stories. Particularly the kind of story that began with great obstacles, and still managed to end well.

That was, perhaps, why Jiraiya found he could not tear his eyes away as Naruto and Sasuke passed the gates. He watched in silence as they strode back into Konoha. And though he did not have the words for it then, he knew there was something meaningful in watching them walk together, close enough to cast only one shadow.

He might even write this story some day. It was a good story, after all. So much pain and so many dreams had been tangled up in Naruto and Sasuke’s lives, Jiraiya had believed no amount of hope could save them. Yet here they were. . . they had managed to unravel their nightmares into a better future. They made Jiraiya want to believe in dreams again, and that none were ever dreamed in vain.

Indeed, theirs was a good story.

One unlike any other, Jiraiya thought, as Naruto disappeared behind the gates.

It was a tale worth telling.

It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.
-- Robert H. Goddard

The End

And there it is, at last. If there was ever a time to leave a comment, it's now! XD Pretty please? Tell me if you loved it, tell me if you hated it. Anything works, really. (In the meanwhile, I'll try to figure out if I should or should not write a pwp one-shot on the-day-Sasuke-topped-Naruto-for-real.)

So. . . O_O It was a great ride, and it's finally over. Many thanks to everybody, particularly to askerian, cindelius and questofdreams , for moral support and all that jazz. And thanks to all the people who ever reviewed, this was awesome fun, as always, but it wouldn't have been half as fun without the exchange.

I'll hopefully see you all soon again, once I get the next fic into gear. ;) So here endeth Tangled, much love to you all! *scuttles off*

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